Thank you to lathaina for looking over the first part! My love for sirona_gs knows no bounds. Guys, guys, this would be completely crap without her. Thank you for all the wonderful help you gave me. 3
I was very fortunate while writing this on the meme, because I received some gorgeous artwork by the wonderful keio. They're linked throughout the story, so please do take a look at them, and let her know what you think! :D
Charles loves his mother. He really does. When it matters she is there for him, and has done her best by him. She is reliable and has taken care of him as well as she can-though the meaningless string of boyfriends is perhaps something he could do without. The way she forgets that she has a son who is still a child despite how mature he sounds, is another thing he could live without too. But she's his mother and so he loves her as much as a teenager could.
But when she asks him, well, demands of him to attend a dinner party she's hosting in the evening, he declines her request. And when that doesn't work, he lies to her, claiming he has promised to help out at the hospital and the head nurse will be expecting him at the children's ward. It's not that he doesn't want to be in the company of Mother and her high society friends, with their elegance and sophistication as they wax poetic about his her diamonds.
He knows what she's like.
It's just another opportunity for her to show off her prodigious son, the only source of comfort in her bleak life. Sometimes it's hard for him to not scoff at this, because life would be better if she could just stop living in the past and notice what's in front of her.
So he lies and concocts a story that, if he's to be honest, he would rather not carry out. But for the sake of his sanity he's willing to try.
The Xavier Medical Institute was built in 1909 by his grandfather.
It had stood tall and imposing even back then, with its sleek finishings and state-of-the-art machinery. It was built as part of a scheme to not only improve conditions and provide private healthcare, but for poor immigrants to have steady work as part of the labour workforce.
It's still tall and imposing as ever, even as it approaches its hundredth year.
The glass doors slide open as Charles crosses the threshold and enters the building, bag slung over his shoulder while the security guard scans his ID card.
There are over ten floors in the main building, with four separate buildings spread across the span of nearly twenty-five acres. The children's ward resides on the west side.
He greets the receptionist at the entrance desk once he's cleared through.
'Hello Nicole,' he says warmly. 'Had a nice day so far?' he asks as he folds his arms over the polished wood of the tall front desk.
Nicole's young, just a few years older than Charles, and speaks with a fantastic New Jersey accent that Charles wishes he could imitate.
She rolls her eyes and snorts. 'As nice as it can get in here. I've just had to deal with a,' she puts on a high pitched voice, 'Mrs Rodriguez, who finds our hospital gown tacky. Not up to her standards,' Nicole says with a huff
The great thing about Nicole is that she speaks her mind. Despite the fact that Charles could be a potential owner of this place, she doesn't seem to give a damn.
It's quite refreshing.
'So I told her, it's either that, Mrs Rodriguez, or nothing. Of course, that didn't go over too well.' She shrugs. 'So what brings you here, Charles?' she enquires, getting up to check the filing cabinet behind her.
He's not sure if he's technically allowed to just volunteer himself without informing the head nurse at least. It's worth trying, though.
'Um, I wanted to help out in the children's ward today.'
'Shouldn't you be out, having fun and enjoying your holidays? You're only fourteen you know,'' she mutters, flicking through patient files.
Charles looks down at the floor for a moment, because what can he say? It sucks at home, there's nothing to do there besides watching Mother play a charade of a life. So he leaves these little titbits of his life.
'I just wanted to hang out with some of the kids. Can I go?'
She looks up from her papers and watches him intently, cocking her head to the side. She must see something in his expression because she smiles. 'Yeah, sure, kid. I'll send a message over to let them know you're coming.'
Part of the charm of the children's ward is that it feels less like a section of a hospital and more like a child's playroom. It's bright and cheerful, painted with warm colours and different scenes on each wall.
There are numbers painted on the floor for hopscotch, rockets, moons and stars decorating the entrance hall at the front. Along with this are toys scattered around the floor and numerous beds. They even have a classroom staffed by teachers on the far end for some of the older kids, and a Disney room on the floor above for the girls.
Charles is bent over, pretending to be Snake as a nurse reads The Gruffalo, hissing his way across the floor with as much dignity as one can muster, except it's hard with James laughing at him, his IV bag on the pole as it trails behind him, while he follows Charles.
James is five and has a rare strain of scarlet fever, a blotchy rash still covering his arms and torso.
Mary, the head nurse, comes in, shaking her head at his antics.
'Come on, Mr Charles. It's time to go. Otherwise your mother will start calling again.'
All the children groan at this, shuffling over to his side and hugging the life out of him.
'Please don't go,' one boy says, bottom lip trembling like his world will end Charles refuses to stay. But Charles happens to know that he's a sneaky little trouble maker. He still shudders at the memory of rotten pudding at the bottom of his shoes.
But Charles has to agree, he can't risk his mother's wrath all over again.
It's on the way back that he sees him.
Mary says not to go, but this only heightens his interest. It's eerily silent in the room, the sharp orange and red rays of the setting sun lingering in the sterile space.
'Poor boy,' Mary says.
'What happened?' His tone is hesitant, the question whispered.
'He fell onto the tracks and got hit by a train, the doctors say he's awfully lucky to have survived.'
He can't really help it, doesn't know what pulls him in, but he enters the room and walks hesitantly up to the silent body.
'So he's OK now?' Charles asks, running a finger across his cheek before pushing his hair from his forehead.
Mary is still standing at the door. 'No, not really. They don't know when he'll come out of it. He's been like this for three weeks now, but we're hopeful. Awful thing though, to happen to someone so young. I think he's only eighteen, maybe nineteen.'
Something twinges inside Charles' chest, a distant ache that's hard to pinpoint. He doesn't know what possesses him to say the words, but they come out, regardless.
He looks at her. 'Can I stay here with him? Just for a little while?' She's frowning at him now. 'He seems awfully lonely, and nobody deserves that,' he adds, biting his lip in worry.
She shakes her head and lets out a tired sigh. 'All right. But it's on your head if you get in trouble.'
Charles smiles at her as she leaves the room and takes a seat in the chair next to the bed. He puts his bag down and starts to search for something he hopes is still there.
And so, it begins.
Charles' love affair with Jane began with his sister.
Well, technically it's Mother who brings her to Charles' attention. When his father dies, and his mother finds herself with endless time and nothing to do, she starts to read .
It's a frightening prospect, because she doesn't read. Not once has Charles ever seen Mother pick up a book, except for The 17 Day Diet Workbook which she threw in the bin, claiming it to be blasphemy.
She attempts Doyle first before branding it complicated. Then she tries to decipher Brontë, and finds it to be 'too bleak, Charles, it's as if they're all bipolar or something,' though he finds she is partial to Heathcliff.
Then she falls upon Austen.
He finds Sense and Sensibility on the dining table one day and thinks she's discovered another author to criticise because, really, it's all that she seems to do. Until the following day when she starts waxing on about Brandon-'Oh Charles, my heart breaks for him, and that Marianne!'
Which is honestly nothing compared to what she starts to say when she discovers Mr Darcy.
It's all fine and dandy when she starts to read it, but it's Colin Firth who's made Charles want to scream bloody murder on quite a few occasions. She watches the adaption of it, and when he dives into the lake before emerging, shirt wet and clinging to his body, she sighs longingly.
'Oh, my. He looks like a sea god, Charles, just look at him.'
Privately Charles can't help but think he looks more like the Loch Ness monster with a rather hairy chest.
But when Charles is twelve and Mother adopts a young girl, Raven, he suddenly finds himself with a sister who's five years younger than him, who refuses to sleep unless he reads her something.
So Charles sneaks in the copy of Pride and Prejudice because he hasn't got any children's books, and he wants her to fall asleep as fast as she can. Otherwise she's a hyperactive terror.
It works. She's asleep within five minutes. What he doesn't expect is to fall in love with Jane Austen, and Mr Darcy along the way, too.
Charles licks his fingertip and flips to the next page, before continuing, 'You are too generous to trifle with me.' Charles sighs a little, because this is his favourite part. 'If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on-' He's cut off by another voice.
'Who are you talking to?'
Charles looks up from his battered copy of Pride and Prejudice. Raven is standing in the doorway, a bald Barbie doll in one hand and blue paint smeared all over her white shorts and sneakers. She's going through a football phase.
He feels the blood rushing to his cheeks and hopes she can't tell.
'Nothing,' he says quickly, stuffing the book back into his bag before slinging it over his shoulder.
Raven shakes her head. 'Nope. You were doing something. I know you were.'
She comes inside and stands by the bed. 'Were you telling him a secret?' Her voice is a soft whisper because even she knows that sometimes people aren't just sleeping here. He brought her with him so she could play with some of the other kids. Without Charles home, she has nobody. But if he tells her, she'll know that Mother's copy hasn't really gone missing, it's just conveniently, by pure chance, been in Charles' possession for the past two years.
When Charles shakes his head, and waves his hand towards the door, she gives him a dark look. 'If you don't tell me, I'm gonna tell Mom about it,' she says stubbornly.
It's surprising what a sneaky thing she can be when she wants to.
He lets out a defeated sigh. It's either this or listen to her complain non-stop on the way home.
'Ok,' he says, dropping his bag back down on the floor. 'But it's a secret. You can't tell Mother about it,' he adds sternly.
She nods her head eagerly and makes a cross over her heart. 'Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. Promise.'
Then she leans over the boy in the bed, watching his face intently, doll resting next to his left arm.
'What's his name?' she asks.
And Charles, without even thinking, rubs his thumb over the boy's brow, wondering what colour his eyes could possibly be.
According to Mother, challenges are presented in everything. If there were no challenges or sacrifices, then one could never grow and learn.
Charles tries to remember that as time passes. Hours soon turn to days, and those slowly bleed into weeks.
His break lasts for three weeks. After this he'll return to school for another term. Funny thing is, he usually doesn't mind returning to a place where the library is a vast, never-ending maze, and the smell of knowledge lingers untouched, waiting for him. He looks forward to it, though it's difficult sometimes with Raven clutching his legs and sobbing for him not to leave her.
The situation is different this time; it's much harder, more difficult to think of. Because the odd thing is, somehow, unexpectedly, he's fallen into a routine.
He's never had a routine. Never had a tradition, one that he's unknowingly stumbled and tripped into, yet forgotten that it was even a routine.
But he has.
And he can't let go of it.
His days begin with working on essays, checking for references and catching up on books. Sometimes he'll spend the morning in the library hunting for a book that he doesn't already have, occasionally with Raven in tow, trying to kick the shelves down, or whistling between bookshelves to distract the librarian. Sometimes she'll need to stay at home with Azazel, her babysitter. For lunch they might stop at Pizza Hut because Raven will insist.
'Or I'll tell Erik you didn't take me,' her retort sharp and snippy.
Times like these Charles regrets ever letting her in on his secret.
The evenings are spent at the hospital. Sometimes they might just go in the afternoon, but those occasions are rare. He'll tend to leave Raven with the other kids, but she joins him more often these days, sitting quietly on the floor playing with her dolls. Or lulled to sleep in his lap by the soft cadence of his voice, ''had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;— though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to ...' and Erik will continue to sleep for however long.
Charles doesn't know much about Erik. Even finding out his name took a little bit of sneaking.
What he does know is that only one person has visited him, and according to Mary that was his mother. Charles has never seen her. He doesn't even know when it happened, but somehow he missed it, for which a part of him is glad. Erik's mother would probably think he's a creepy stalker, because who else reads Austen to strangers? Yet he secretly wishes he did meet her; he wants to know more about this boy who he's been serenading, according to Mary, with quotes from Mr Darcy.
Raven swings their hands back and forth as they wait patiently until they reach their floor. It's hot and humid in the elevator, almost sticky like fresh honey trickling through your fingers. The old man in front of them exits the elevator, one stop before theirs, humming the tune to Scooby-Doo. Raven starts snickering.
They reach their floor and walk towards the room. He can practically feel Raven thrumming with excitement.
It's become their secret.
Charles walks into the now-familiar room before freezing. There's a lady sitting to the left in a grey cardigan, her hair falling in loose curls behind her. She looks like she's been crying, and that's when Charles realises with fear that this must be the elusive woman who is Erik's mother.
Raven tugs at his arm. 'Come on Charles, I need to go-' but she stops, peeks over his arm and sees the other woman. 'Oh,' she says.
Erik's mother frowns at them. 'I'm sorry, was there something you needed? Is it the doctor?' she asks, starting to rise from her seat.
He quickly shakes his head, 'Oh, no. No.' He stops, not knowing what else to say. There's a thick, suffocating feeling in the room, or maybe it's just him. 'We were just-'
But Raven cuts him off, somehow finding her voice again. 'We're here to read,' she explains, voice tinged with barely contained excitement.
Charles thinks, shit. This is not how it's supposed to go.
She looks at them, confused. 'To read? What do you mean?' She's looking at Raven.
'We come here to read to Erik. Well, Charles reads to him.' Both of them look up at him. 'He's reading Pride and Prejudgeutis,' she adds, botching the title along the way.
Charles flushes, all the blood rushing to his cheeks. He's amazed his limbs are even functioning. Erik's mother looks at him, a slight appraisal to her features.
She leans back in her chair. 'I see.'
'I'm sorry,' he offers because he doesn't know what else to say. 'I didn't know if he had any visitors, and I thought maybe I could read to him.'
'And Erik likes to listen,' Raven chimes in.
Charles wants to throttle her.
She smiles all of a sudden. It's brittle and doesn't light up her face, but that's hard to expect in her situation. Raven smiles happily at her, pleased with herself.
'What's your name?' She's watching Charles now.
'Well, Charles, why don't you come and take a seat.' She gestures to her left, to the extra chair. 'I'm glad you were here. It can get lonely.' Her eyes flicker back to Erik. 'I don't mind that you're reading to him, I'm grateful for it. I'd be happy if you carried on.' Her voice is soft and hesitant. Charles is afraid he might just break this moment that they're having.
But he nods and sits down, taking his book out, with Raven taking her customary seat in his lap.
Then he starts to read.
'I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had...'
They sit together, Erik's mother looking out the window while Charles continues reading, the words ghosting over their skin. Erik's body lies between them, a silent merger.
The next day, Raven skips her way to the room, and Charles is secretly giddy with excitement, because today's his birthday and they can finally begin Sense and Sensibility.
But when they get to the room, Erik is gone.
The bit where Charles sees Erik for the first time: fassyfaceavoythere(.)tumblr(.)com/post/7973630248/1st-meeting-scene-from-come-as-you-are-and-i
Feedback is always welcomed. :D